Laser show on Tahquitz: Issues are prior consultation, permits and tradition

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It was a first, and the July 4th laser show lit up Tahquitz Rock. From a perfect vantage point, the images were spectacular. Photo by John Drake

The Fourth of July laser show on Tahquitz Rock was a first. And now it’s history. Intended as a memorial to a wife who loved fireworks, the show sparked comments positive and negative from Idyllwild residents.

For many, especially those who posted on Facebook, the laser show was a spectacular success, a first-time home run.

Some loved the flash and sparkle of the laser show as a modern-day technological marvel and substitute for fireworks that are prohibited in the forest. Some thought the images were not well thought out, and were randomly projected without a cohesive script that told a story, either about Idyllwild and the mountain or about the Fourth of July.

Some felt the show was not in keeping with Idyllwild’s homespun and low-key celebrations. They cited the Fourth of July parade and Christmas Tree Lighting ceremonies as the kinds of home-town-produced and simple celebrations that could have been held 100 years ago in any small town in America.

Some thought the laser show, by comparison, was a sophisticated big-city import from Los Angeles, out of keeping with Idyllwild’s small-town vibe.

For some, the inaugural laser show was a precursor to even larger laser celebrations in the future — good for local commerce and bringing more off-Hill visitors to Idyllwild. For others, the flow of cars scurrying throughout the village to find the perfect vantage point to view the show was reminiscent of the disruptive onslaught of off-Hill snow-play visitors.

For some, the show was a beautiful tribute from a loving husband to a cherished wife and should be acknowledged and appreciated for that reason. For others, it seemed a decision and project made without adequate consultation within the wider community.

In 2015, a climate change laser show on the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica was called sacrilegious by conservative Catholics. Photo courtesy Pete Baklinski

Some thought the show had been vandalized because of green beams that preceded and seemed to delay the show. Show funder Chic Fojtik explained, “The green beams shooting out across the valley were to draw attention to the rock and probably caused more confusion and distraction.”

For Native Americans, Tahquitz towers over their ancestral grounds and is and has always been a source of great power and energy. It is energy held in precarious balance and is not to be trifled with or treated disrespectfully, according to Cahuilla elder Kim Marcus.

“Tahquitz was a great shaman and helped the Cahuilla, but misused his powers,” recounted Marcus. “There is great power in the rock, and it is has been held in balance for many years. For us, it is a sacred site. To disrespect that power and our traditions will cause a disruption in the balance of power and there will be consequences.”

When some residents raised the issue of Tahquitz’s sacred status to Native Americans, other residents dismissed those concerns summarily, noting that native people have not lived in Idyllwild for more than 130 years.

Gerald Clarke, Cahuilla tribal member and former head of the Visual Arts Department at Idyllwild Arts Academy and current teacher of Native American history at University of California, Riverside, noted, “There’s a whole tribal life that continues in Idyllwild but it goes unseen. We come to gather our acorns and visit our ancestral grounds.”

Clarke thought, as did Marcus, that the consultative process with Native Americans was too brief and was more afterthought than respectful dialogue.

Clarke stressed Native American objections to the laser show on Tahquitz had nothing to do with halting a Fourth of July celebration. “We’re patriots, too,” he said. “My dad, uncle and great uncles served in the U.S. military. The Cahuilla elder I learned our songs from was a master sergeant in the Army.

“There’s a time and a place for everything, and this just wasn’t it.” Asked if the show could have been projected on another surface, one not considered sacred to the Cahuilla, Clarke noted that was a possibility that could be further investigated.

Clarke and Marcus felt the conversation about the proposed show could have started sooner and involved more input from the tribes. Clarke said, “It’s our belief system that there is no hurry but you must give it [decisions] true consideration.”

Said Marcus, “This is another example of the dominant culture dictating over us again, creating more separation between people. This [Tahquitz] is a site that many of us still believe is sacred.”

For Fojtik, who launched and totally funded this expensive project, this was a labor of love and not intended to offend anyone. Fojtik admitted the consultation within the Idyllwild community and with the Native American tribal communities could have been done more thoroughly. He said he and co-producer Gary Kuscher had made initial attempts to consult with the tribes but perhaps could have done more before the show.

He noted he and Kuscher moved quickly to get the project mounted so that people could then judge the result, rather than have massive pushback before the first event was even produced.

Fojtik said he initially didn’t fully appreciate the Native American objections since the inspiration for this show had been a laser show he and his wife Pamela had seen in Egypt. The show was projected on one of the world’s most historic and iconic sites — the Great Pyramid of Giza with initial sponsorship by the Egyptian government, dating back to the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Fojtik also referenced a 2015 projection of a laser show on the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, one that highlighted the dangers facing the world from rapid climate change. The multi-million dollar show titled “Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home” was created and funded by climate-change partisans and population-control advocates with the goal to “educate and inspire change around the climate crisis across generations, cultures, languages, religions and class.” Catholic leaders pushed back, calling the show sacrilegious. They were outraged that Pope Francis had approved such an insult to a sacred site.

Fojtik noted that with any project, no matter how well-intended or meritorious, there are always some who object. “I couldn’t really accept their [tribal] argument that the lighting would somehow be sacrilegious while people climb on it [Tahquitz] and the [Native American] casinos make money from people with gambling addictions.”

He said any future show would have to be managed by someone else, perhaps a nonprofit. But the $10,000 cost might be a bit much for the village to manage, especially given objections from some within the community, and questions over whether adequate permitting processes were followed prior to the event.

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  1. I do not think a laser show projected anywhere in Idyllwild should ever be repeated. The majority of people who live here do so because they love the peace and beauty of our forests, our marvelous granite mountains and peaks undisturbed by man. Tahquitz is sacred to the Cahuilla people as well as to, townspeople, hikers, and rock climbers who love and respect it. I understand that this show was done as one man’s tribute to his wife but it should not be considered as a tourist attraction, meant to bring people to our village in order to see something that has nothing to do with our natural environment. Let’s keep our piece of paradise just that: as nature made it.

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  2. It’s people like you Jane Levy that make Idyllwild suck! You can’t even do anything thing fun without lousy people like you complaining.

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  3. A P.R. stunt, $10,000, not from my parcel assessment fees! but hey CSA members are appointed not elected, hmm.

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  4. One and done.

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  5. Idyllwild was recommended to me because of its charm, location and village atmosphere. I was told I will love it and I did, so much that I decided to stay. It reminds me of Europe and old times America at the same time. I don’t believe that any future laser shows will add to Idyllwild’s appeal, quite the opposite. As to disrespect to Cahill people – the comment that they moved out 150 years ago and it is ok to desecrate the mountain is insensitive and silly. We need to preserve and learn from history, not trample all over it.

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  6. I know Town Hall or Rotary can pay for it after all its entertainment for all!

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  7. Marshall Smith July 16, 2017, 4:12 pm

    According to Cahuilla elder Kim Marcus his great grandparents lived in Upper Fern Valley at approximately the same location as my neighbors and I do. And yes, according to Marcus, even though his great grandfather was a respected shaman within his tribe, he, his family and others were forced to relocate from their ceremonial and ancestral grounds.They did not choose to move away.

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